When heading to Italy for the first time, it can be daunting to try to figure out what to do. There are so many wonderful places to visit in Italy that choosing which ones to visit first is a real dilemma.
If you not planning a trip for a while…
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These are the favourite places we have visited Italy that we think are ‘must do’ destinations. They are also the places we stopped in at on our first couple of drives around Italy with the kids. We got to everything we wanted on these trips, bar one. I must confess, we missed Pompeii. It was a mistake on our part and the next time we are anywhere near it, we will be going and doing a full review of that extraordinary place.
Italy is incredible! An experience not to be missed, steeped in immense history with a legacy of a culture that impacted almost every other culture in the world.
Pizza & Gelato
And of course delicious pizza, pasta or gelato on almost every street corner of every town… We have been in a pasta-induced haze, for the last 2 months! The kids still love gelato, no matter how often we buy it. I probably don’t need to mention it, but the wine is delicious and surprisingly affordable too.
We started our trip to Italy after an extended stay in Vilnius and St Petersburg. Aiming for Lake Como and Milan after driving down through Poland and Austria. We snuck across Switzerland and through St Moritz (while the high pass was still open, it was early winter) The desire to drive through Austria was really what determined our first port of call.
If I want to say something else right now, it is time-management. You are going to need some skills to manage your time in Italy. No matter where you go in Italy, you are going to want to stay there longer…
“Just keep moving if it’s your first trip! Go back to your favourites on the second trip and lush out in each of them longer.”
We are all familiar with the heavy hitters; Venice & canals, Como & Lakes, Rome & the Colosseum, Pisa and a tower (we found the wobbling tower there, that most people miss)
Milan / Lake Como
The Duomo (Milan Cathedral) will dominate your first experience of the city, but don’t neglect to also visit Pinacoteca di Brera, the impressive Sforza Castle, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Milan, in our eyes, is the fashion capital of Italy and probably the world. It is a truly prestigious city when it comes to couture clothing, (but this isn’t exactly how we dress!) Regardless, this doesn’t mean shopping for clothes (and other things) are the only thing to do in Milan. The food is sensational and the city is filled with all manner of secret nooks and crannies where you will be delighted by an incredible aray of wonderful things to see. look and you will find. Being such a cosmopolitan city, everyone’s tastes are catered for, so go explore.
Just north of the city is the enigmatic Lake Como, I say enigmatic because it always seemed to me before going there that it was an ultra-exclusive playground for the rich and famous, but after renting a lovely cottage right on the lake and spending a couple of weeks there, it felt much more homely and local than my earlier impressions of it. The town feels middle class and frankly, the supermarkets are all a bit run down. But this is all part of the real charm of the place, especially when you strike up a conversation with the locals.
Italians are warm and welcoming people, they love to share their love of food and wine and family with other peoples and being a tourist can be an advantage, because it makes you a bit more interesting to them and people are a bit more patient with you, generally!
On that topic, the whole of Italy is in so many ways an enigma to me. This is just my perspective, but after travelling 45,000 km all over Europe for the last year and a half It feels like one of the less wealthy countries here in Europe. It is a centre for fashion and style, yet we have seen so much that is bordering on the kitsch side or worse!
Growing up in Australia, at least half of my friends at school were from Italian families, I remember going to their houses and now that I am an adult, I realise that their homes fell into 1of 2 basic categories. I might get into trouble for this with you, but those categories were either utterly tasteless or the most stylish I had ever seen.
Now that I have spent quite a lot of time in Italy, I see that it is the same here! I brace myself and expect that my thoughts will grate against some and others will have the same realisation as me.
So Italy is a country of contradictions, tacky and tasteful, modern and crumbling, cutting edge and run down. And it is exactly this that makes it so fascinating. It occurs to me that maybe it is the contradictions in myself that make the contradictions in Italy so fascinating.
C0ming soon is more on our top photos of Milan and the Piedmont region.
Verona has a way of making you feel like you are a part of history. You especially feel this when you go to the Opera in the Verona Arena (Arena di Verona). You feel the history in every stone. The Arena is a spectacular Roman amphitheatre that has dominated Piazza it stands in (Piazza Bra) since the first century.
It was the writer William Shakespeare who popularised Verona in the English-speaking world. His tale of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet was set in this northern Italian city. There is a steady flow of romantics who venture to Verona to visit Casa di Giulietta, a 13th-century palazzo of the Dal Cappello family that is now known as Juliet’s House.
You might notice that her breast is lighter in colour, that’s because it has become a ‘thing’ to stand next to this sculpture with your hand on her boob for a photo. It occurred to me that wouldn’t it be funny if one of those street performers set up nearby and scared people each time they try to get. photo with a boob on the hand with them. I bet they would make extra money! Someone should try it.
Piazza Bra sits at the heart of life in Verona and a lovely open space just dripping with history. It is also the home to the city’s town hall and other important buildings.
Venice is unique in the world. A playground for lovers really. The city of Venice is so especially beautiful and rustic, that it almost feels like a theme park. The population of Venice is falling so quickly now that many believe that by 2035 it basically will be a theme park. A place for the millions of tourist who flock there each year. Things like: The beauty of the grand canal. The iconic gondola’s passing through many canals that criss-cross the city. The Doge’s Palace and the many Scuolle’s (art schools). All the things about Venice that makes this city the wonderful city that it is. They all come together to make this city a truly gorgeous experience.
Venice has it all. It is a city to spend a month in, just exploring all its little hidden treasures. None the least of which are the neighbouring islands that still have all their original charm and beauty, but with almost none of the tourists that are so infamous in Venice.
If you’re thinking of visiting Venice, our complete guide on what to see, do and eat in the city, is coming soon.
Florence was my 2nd city in Italy and one of my favourite places to visit in Italy. This city shaped my love of Italy, not just because the streets are beautiful or because of it’s stunning architecture or the medieval Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It was also the gelato shops on almost every street corner.
The history, the pizza, and the ice cream make recommending Florence to everyone easy. Especially the first-timers. Don’t miss Piazzale Michelangelo for its views across the city, the Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Strozzi.
Soon you will be able to go here to see our photos of this amazing Italian city.
That’s it for part 1 of this 2 part series. Next up we cover our other 4 favourite places to visit in Italy